10 Character Design Mistakes That Haunt New Artists (and How to Fix Them)

Character design is a tricky subject that requires a good balance of creativity and technical art skills. 

Beginners often make many mistakes during character design without noticing them. Even seasoned artists can find it beneficial to review common errors periodically to avoid them in future projects.

Let’s review common character design mistakes and how to fix them. Focusing on fixing your mistakes will enhance the believability of your characters and ensure they resonate with your intended audience.

1. Going Right into Drawing Without Researching

If you plan to sketch and draw characters as a fun activity, jumping right into drawing without any preparation is okay.

But, doing research is a must if you want to create a good character design. Skipping research before putting pen to paper can lead to generic, unrealistic characters. 

The best way to research a character is by first writing about them.

Write a short description of your character. Make sure you consider these points on the character sheet:

Name: Without a name, your character will be soulless

Age: Age is important. Not only because certain age groups have different anatomy, but you should also consider fashion trends related to those age groups.

Gender: Do you want your character to be a man or woman, or do you want to be non-binary? The power is on you.

Personality Traits: Write the personality first before drawing them. Careful not to fall into typical cliches and troupe

Backstory: This is not a must, but at least you must consider first if your character has the usual backstory or not

You can add more or less to the character sheet.

2. Drawing without Reference

Even though this is essential knowledge, sometimes some artists believe that using references is cheating.

No, it’s not. Having a reference makes drawing easier and quicker

You do not need to prove to others you can draw without reference. It’s not important. Not only that, but no one cares how you draw your art when it’s done

So research for suitable reference before drawing. Sometimes, you can get a new idea for your character after getting a good reference.

3. Not Using Form and Proportions to Convey Character

Your character’s form and proportions are crucial as they communicate much about who your character is. 

For example, a character with broad shoulders and a narrow waist typically conveys strength. Meanwhile, a character with a lean body usually signifies flexibility. You can connect this with the occupation of the character.

If you want to create an assassin character for a game or as fan art, having broad shoulders is not the correct choice. On the other hand, exaggerated proportions can be used for comic effect or to signify otherworldly traits.

Using the previous example, you can combine the character of a barbarian with an assassin. This will create a unique character as an assassin.

4. Not Using Silhouette on Your Character

The silhouette of your character serves as a powerful tool for instant recognition. A silhouette can make your character memorable. 

This is especially important for game, comic, and webtoon artists. You want your character to be memorable to the reader.

This is why a silhouette can be used as the essence of your character, stripped to its most basic form. A strong silhouette means the character is discernible purely by its outline, which aids in their identification from any angle.

If you have a terrible silhouette design, you and others can’t easily understand the character by just seeing the silhouette. 

If the artists can’t even recognize their characters from the silhouette, then the characters are not unique enough compared to other characters.

5. Drawing without Anatomy and Figure Drawing Knowledge

I know it’s common for beginner artists to keep drawing in anime style. Anime art is easy and fun to draw.

But the problem is that many artists skip learning to draw realistic or real humans. Anime style is a stylized style. It’s grounded in reality.

You can’t create believable characters if you don’t know how to draw actual humans.

I know it’s boring to learn skeletal structure, muscle groups, and proportions. But it’s essential to know them to create a character with a realistic range of movements and stances. 

In addition to anatomy, mastering figure drawing is an essential skill for artists. A pose can reveal much about a character’s personality, immediate intentions, and the narrative you aim to convey. 

Selecting an expressive pose enables the character to communicate non-verbally with your audience. You should engage in exercises that enhance your understanding of weight distribution, balance, and movement to do this effectively.

One of my favorite resources for learning figure drawing is “Figure Drawing: Design and Invention” by Michael Hampton.

6. Not Using Character Archetypes

Character archetypes are models from which various characters are derived. When you explore different archetypes, you’re diving into a well of established characteristics that can serve as a starting point for your design. 

Whether you’re crafting a hero, a villain, or the everyman, grounding your character in a recognizable archetype can give you a solid foundation. At the same time, you add unique traits that avoid stereotypes. 

Remember to pair these archetypes with thorough research to ensure cultural sensitivity and authenticity in your character design.

7. Using Boring and Generic Clothes

Clothes are an essential part of a character. It can transform flat and generic designs into unique characters.

Your character’s clothes should be unique and align with the storyline. Start with a mood board to compile visual inspirations and palettes that resonate with your character’s narrative. 

This approach will ensure the clothing elements are cohesive and reflect the character’s journey. When considering fabrics and styles, think about the environment and the role your character plays in your story’s context.

  • Ensure that the clothing is appropriate for the character’s activities.
  • Align outfits with the cultural context of your character to maintain authenticity.
  • Choose colors that reflect the character’s personality and the story’s mood.

Besides clothes, accessories are the details that can make a character memorable and relatable. They should be more than mere decoration; practical accessories can suggest backstory or imply traits without explicit explanation.

If you read or watch One Piece manga and anime, you quickly recognize the straw hat the main character always wears.

  • Every accessory should serve a purpose, whether it’s symbolic or practical.
  • Avoid cluttering your character with too many accessories, which can distract from their essence.
  • If you’re drawing your characters repeatedly, they should have distinctive but manageable accessories consistent in each rendering.

8. Choosing Generic Color for Your Character

Color theory is fundamental when designing characters.

Don’t choose a flat color for your character. Make it vibrant with a higher level of contrast.

You can choose different colors for each character depending on which character you’re drawing. For example, the main character should have the best and most vibrant color compared to other characters.

Of course, you can break this rule and make your MC flat if you know what you’re doing.

If you want to learn color theory, I recommend the book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney.

9. Neglecting Consistency:

When drawing memorable characters, you’ll need to strike a delicate balance between a style that’s identifiable across various contexts and adaptable to different scenarios.

Inconsistent designs across poses, expressions, or even color palettes can pull viewers out of the experience. 

The best way to maintain consistency is by making it simple

The simplicity of character design helps maintain recognition across different settings, while complexity adds depth and interest. 

Start with a simple base shape and add details sparingly; this ensures your character isn’t overwhelmed by elements.

Besides making it simple, to help you achieve consistency across various artworks, outline a set of guidelines for your character’s features. 

This can include proportions, line weight, and color schemes. It’s essential to refer back to these guidelines whenever you create a new piece. Developing a character sheet showcasing your character in various poses and expressions can be a reference tool. 

10. Prioritizing Aesthetics over Personality

Boruto overdesign

Many artists prioritize aesthetics too much over personality

Let’s be honest: overdesign is terrible. It can make your character comical. If you want to make your character comical, sure, go ahead. But you will increase the risk of your audience ignoring your character

A famous example is the Boruto design after time skip.

The artists use too many jacket belts and accessories. Even the color scheme is basically dull black.

Boring and forgettable 

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Kenny HD
Hi, I’m Kenny. I’m a digital artist who began learning art at the age of 21. I enjoy drawing cartoons and fan art.

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